Monday, October 27, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of the Philippines

Last Wednesday we looked into the languages of Japan, a country composed of 6,852 islands that is home to a surprisingly small number of languages despite its widespread geography. This week we're focusing on the Philippines, another Asian country located in the Pacific Ocean, which consists of 7,107 islands. Unlike Japan, the Philippines is incredibly linguistically diverse, with two official languages, 19 officially-recognized regional languages, and over 100 other indigenous languages.

The Official Languages

The official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and English. Filipino is a standard register of the Tagalog language that was created in order to provide the Philippines with a national language of its own heritage in contrast to the widespread use of its two former colonial languages, English and Spanish. For an in-depth look at the development of the Filipino language and its linguistic connections to Tagalog, check out our two-part language profile on Filipino and Tagalog.

Beautiful Matinloc Island in the Philippines.
The Regional Languages

The Philippines also has 19 officially-recognized regional languages. The most spoken language in the Philippines is Tagalog, an Austronesian language which has over 26 million native speakers. It is followed by the Cebuano and Ilokano languages, which have approximately 21 million and 7 million native speakers respectively, and are both used as a lingua franca in particular regions of the country.

The fourth most spoken language in the Philippines is Hiligaynon, also known as Ilonggo, which boasts around 7 million speakers. The Waray-Waray language comes in fifth place. While it is primarily used as a spoken language, religious books such as the Bible and the Book of Mormon have been printed in the language.

Chavacano is one of the most fascinating indigenous languages spoken in the Philippines. It is a Spanish-based creole that is over 400 years old, making it one of the oldest surviving creoles in the world and the only Spanish-based creole used in Asia. There are six distinct dialects of Chavacano that are spoken throughout the country. If you're interested in learning about other creoles, then check out our profiles on Haitian Creole and Jamaican Creole English.

If you've been counting, then you know that there are still 13 remaining regional languages to mention. All thirteen are Austronesian languages that are spoken in small regions of the Philippines. Kampampangan has approximately 2.9 million native speakers, and is followed by the Bikol and Pangasinan languages which both have over 2 million speakers. Kinaray-a, Manguindanao, Maranao, and Tausug are spoken by around 1 million people, Aklanon and Surigaonan are spoken by approximately 500,000 Filipinos, and Ibanag has around 300,000 native speakers. The Ivatan, Sambali, and Yakan languages have much smaller numbers of speakers that range somewhere in the thousands.

Other Languages

The Philippines is home around 170 languages, but we don't have the time to mention them all. The vast majority are Austronesian languages like most of the other languages we've mentioned today. Several foreign languages also have considerable numbers of speakers in the Philippines, including Arabic, which is primarily used by Muslims, and Spanish, which has historical importance as the country's former colonial language. Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, and Japanese also have significant numbers of speakers.